Sunday, 24 November 2013

Reflections on our First Session

When Yana and I started putting our heads together and planning the inaugural IGNITEd session, we weren't sure what the reaction would be. There's been an ever-growing push by teachers toward edcamp-style professional development: professional learning, independent of respective school boards, based on what teachers want to learn about, plenty of opportunity to network and time to actually play with new ideas. This is a relatively new concept for teachers in our area, and we were excited to get it off the ground.

We arbitrarily chose to start with a session on Design Learning and the Maker Movement, and we set to work assembling a fantastic guest expert, tools to play with and resources for all levels of education. Then we started spreading the word.

But in a rural setting, on a Friday night, during hunting season? We weren't sure how many would be interested in joining us. About a dozen teachers registered, but then on top of it all, adverse weather conditions that day shut down local highways and prevented much travel.

We put the coffee on, set up the laptop for the G+ Hangout, created stations around the room, and waited. In the end, we had an enthusiastic group of seven educators join us in person, and two via the Hangout. And we had a blast.

Coming up with ideas to survive the Zombie Apocalypse

We started with introductions, and a talk via Hangout by Marcie Lewis (@MarcieLew), our guest expert on Design Learning and the Maker Movement. Marcie is a grade 4 teacher in southern Ontario, who was immersed in these topics this past summer as part of her Master of Arts - Educational Technology (Overseas Cohort) Program through Michigan State University. She also actively includes design learning in her classroom, and encourages "making" amongst her students.

And this is where the session derailed, in the best way possible.

We had originally planned for one hour of "talk" (presentation by our guest expert), one hour of "tools" (actively trying out the design learning experience and playing with new resources), and one hour of "time" (an opportunity to reflect, research and collaborate on where we could use this in our own classroom). But then Marcie's talk became more interactive - teachers both in the room and in the Hangout began discussing different aspects of the design learning process, already questioning how it could be used in various teaching scenarios, what worked and what didn't, and how to overcome many of the challenges we foresaw with our students.

Teachers were scribbling thoughts on the large paper on the tables, sharing with each other great ideas found online through Marcie's suggestions, and collaborating cross-curricularly and across panels. The single hour we had scheduled for Marcie quickly turned into two. 

[And as an aside, I personally loved how easy the G+ Hangout made it for us to collaborate with teachers in Sudbury. The interactive nature of Marcie's talk was a wonderful catalyst for great discussion the continued long after the Hangout was finished.]

Some teachers created physical prototypes, others set to work creating apps

With just one hour left, Yana walked us through the design learning process, based on a template by the Institute of Design at Stanford. Our task was to design a tool to help our partner survive a zombie apocalypse. As we worked through the methodology, the conversation continued, and even after all the prototypes had been presented, we continued to discuss pros and cons. We were excited by what we were learning, and only just starting to realize how we could incorporate these ideas into our teaching.

It was 9pm on a Friday night, and no one was ready to leave. A flick of the lights by the custodian reminded us our time was up, and we began to put everything away, including the massive amounts of food (did I mention it was a potluck? We were certainly well-fed!).

We were joined initially by teachers who were intrigued, but not sure what to expect (including ourselves!). By the end, we were all inspired. One participant summed it up perfectly by saying: "I'm not going to go and change what I'm doing, but I am going to start looking to see where I can fit this in."

As teachers, we are constantly evolving how we teach, and it is through small steps like these - adding in new ideas here and there - that we can make the classroom a more exciting and engaging space for our students. Thank you to everyone who joined us both in person and virtually!
Prototype in the making for a zombie domesticator. Patent pending.

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